I’m not a big fan of moe, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t give these types of series a chance. I’ve been proven wrong often enough times about these types of shows, and there are plenty of series that may look overly chichéd and stereotypical on the outside, yet turn out to be surprising gems on the inside. I was hoping Saki to be the same, and for a while it indeed looked like this was the case, but in the end it unfortunately ended up too much stuck in its own clichés and stereotypes to really develop into something worthwhile.
There are just too many fundamental problems with this series. This series is about Mah-Jong. In preparation for this series, you can clearly see that the creators read through all of the rules of Mah-Jong, they looked up all of the major strategies that can be used to win, but on the other hand it also becomes so obvious that they’ve never actually sat down to play a game, in order to get the feeling of how a game normally progresses.
And so, the matches in this series aren’t decided by strategy, but instead by pure luck. Matches basically revolve around who can pull the biggest Deus ex Machina near the end of every match. These magical powers enable the characters to cheat in all sorts of ways, like becoming invisible, getting extra luck when the rounds are arranged in a particular way, and even blatantly giving all of your opponent crappy hands so that you can do whatever you please. The creators don’t even make use of this. The matches all end in the most predictable ways, with no attempt whatsoever to spice them up beyond their original set-up (which is just a courtesy of the manga it’s based on anyway).
This would have all been forgiven if the characters made up for it. Unfortunately, there too it ultimately disappoints. This series has about thirty named characters, and nearly all of them just end up being one-dimensional clichés and stereotypes, with the few attempts that are made to develop them being the most predictable and clichéd attempts ever, so that doesn’t really help either.
In the end, there are just three characters that actually resemble characters and don’t exist based on their exaggerated quirks, and those are just a bunch of minor side-characters. They definitely manage to spice up the series when they’re in the focus, but they’re just too overshadowed by the lead characters, Saki and Nodoka who form one of the most obvious lesbian pairings I have ever seen. There’s nothing subtle about their romance at all. It’s just a constant onslaught of blushing and strange looks when these two are near each other.
But by far the worst character in this series has to be the only boy in the entire series. This guy is so incredibly obnoxious that he makes every scene he’s in a pain to sit through. His endless fantasies about Nodoka’s bosom just get worse and worse as time goes by, and overall he remains an utterly pointless character. There’s no reason whatsoever to have him in this series!
I recently (read: half an hour ago) realized that this series is quite similar to Yoku Wakaru Gendai Mahou: both series start out with a flawed premise of lots and lots of moe, seemingly stereotypical characters, magic and huge boobs. And that’s all the more of a shame that YWGM did end up creating something enjoyable with a tongue-in-the-cheek execution and fun chemistry, while Saki kept hanging with a bland and unimaginative execution that always picks the most predictable option to go forward. With one of the most obnoxious soundtracks of the season (I’m not the biggest fan of J-Pop, and it’s music like that that’s exactly the reason why!), it fails to move beyond mediocrity.